“DeCesari Olive Oil Syndicate” is harvesting the neighborhood’s trees this day after Thanksgiving to press our coming year’s domestic supply. Four men scramble up and down ladders, stripping every black, oil-engorged fruit in hopes we can meet the 350 lb. minimum that Mill Valley’s Frantoio requires to press a separate lot. Last year, these same trees yielded over 900 lbs. Olive shares an “alternate bearing” habit with a number of other fruits and nuts. Voluminous crops demand extra energy and nutrients that otherwise would be appropriated to form a following year’s fruit buds. But our 2014 modest yield is of fine quality, unlike olive groves we visited all over Tuscany and Umbria whose farmers face disaster. An unusually cool and wet Italian summer dealt olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae, an upper hand. Usually inconsequential under common warm and dry Mediterranean conditions, this pest managed to lay eggs in every fruit on 2014’s light-cropped Italian orchards. Maggots hatched and tunneled through olive flesh, rendering many groves completely unharvestable. Paolo Pencelli had within the last several years invested 1M Euros in the high-tech, modest-scale press that he proudly demonstrated for us one recent, rainy Sunday afternoon. It was designed to process his 35 hectares and those of surrounding Umbrian neighbors into high-quality, private label oils that could fetch better returns than wholesaling their fruit. With no olives to press, Paolo’s apprehension over debt payments on his equipment was evident. Our group’s leader, Amigo Bob Cantisano, produced artisan California oil until fraudulent “Italian” product drove him from the business about a decade back. Major supermarket brands like Star and Bertolli are not Italian or even pure olive oil in many cases. Oil transported in ships from anywhere in the Mediterranean is rechristened “Italian” after docking overnight in any of The Boot’s many ports. What’s more, this product is then adulterated with soybean or canola oil before bottling and shipment to unsuspecting world markets. California’s recently revived olive oil industry struck back this September, convincing our state’s Department of Food and Agriculture to adopt standards of quality and authenticity for oil produced here, along with testing protocols to demonstrate compliance. Long range, Golden State producers intend that foreign oil be subject to the same tough rules they’ve imposed on themselves. Expect even more foolishness than usual from foreign suppliers in the year to come. Purchase California olive oil, if you can’t make your own.
NY Times: nyti.ms/1lcSKOk Standards: bit.ly/1uNmjYt